Buying airplanes tickets have never been so cheap. Fares are at the lowest since 2010. But you better stick with your original plan because changing tickets have never been so expensive.
If you want to resell your ticket or transfer it to someone else because you can’t fly anymore there must be an app for that right? Think again. Here is why fees have become so expensive, in particular change fees and few tips on how to avoid them.
20 years ago buying an airplane tickets came with the perks of checking luggage for free, selecting your seat, and the right to change name and dates if travel plans varied. But things have changed in the aviation industry especially after 9/11.
“Today it’s even dangerous to call it airline ticket, what you are buying it’s merely a promise of flying you somewhere,” says Christopher Eliott, founder of Eliott.org, an advocacy organization supporting consumers.
After the 2001 terrorist attacks, airliners faced one of their worst crises in history. To recover from the drop of passengers and economic turmoil, major airliners together with cutting costs, merging and restructuring, lowered tickets fares.
Customer got used to low costs, in exchange of more basic services, and marketing department rushed to promote increasingly cheap tickets and figure out alternative ways to generate profit.
Companies decided to increase fees for everything else: food on board, wi-fi, luggage, and obviously changing dates.
“Airliners call them ancillary fees, we call them unbundle fees,” says Kate Hanni founder and spokesperson of Flyers Right, a non profit organization that advocates for more transparent and just tickets fares which managed to successfully push regulation through the Department of Transportation that expands passengers protection.
Among the most insidious and unjustified fees there is the changing fees. If you purchase a ticket but your plans change or you make a mistake in choosing the dates or selecting the connecting flight, the majority of airlines will change the tickets for you after charging a flat changing fee of $200 on top of the new airplane ticket.
Daniel Ayageh, a film editor and frequent flyer living in Brooklyn stumbled into changing fees three times in four years with different carriers.
“I didn’t pay attention to the connection flight dates and didn’t realize it was the day after my arrival,” says Ayageh who was flying from JFK to Munich via Istanbul. He had to pay $200 in changing fee and buy another ticket to Munich, virtually throwing away the one he regularly bought. The other two times he had to pay the change fees because of delays and missed connecting flights.
Airlines made three billion of dollars in unbundle fees in 2014 only, which contribute to carriers record high profit of the last years. At a recent public event Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian said that airlines tickets haven’t been so low since 2010 but never mentioned that unbundle fees have increased since then.
“There are about 150 different fees and airlines can raise them and lower them as they want and there is no tax on them,” says Hanni.
Changing a ticket technically cost the price of a keystroke but airlines argues it’s a missed opportunity of selling the ticket and it costly to resell it on the market.
One little tangible success for passenger was achieved in 2011 when the Department of Transportation managed to impose a 24-hour period after the first purchase of a ticket in which customers can cancel or change their booking without additional fees. But only few people change or cancel ticket in such a short amount of time.
Here are few things to do in order to avoid change fees.
Read what’s included in the ticket fare.
Travel with airlines like Southwest and Alaska which have decided to not impose change fees as part of a customer friendly policy (Alaska allows you change tickets 60 days to the date of flight).
If you can afford them and you think that travel plans might change buy flexible tickets.
Take advantage of the 24 hours window that every company by law have to give you.
Don’t show up and buy a new ticket. Sometimes it’s more convenient to throw away the entire ticket and buy a new one instead of cancelling–there is a fee also for that–or trying to change it.
But keep in mind that if you bought a round trip ticket if you don’t show up for the outbound flight, companies will automatically cancel your entire trip assuming you’ll never use the inbound ticket. This is another industry nonsense but be aware of it.
Also, the habit of not showing up is actually increasing the problem of overbooking as companies estimates that a certain number of people won’t even go to the airport and sell the same seat more than once.
But ultimately the best way to change the change fees is to pressure the legislator.
Hanni argues that things will change only if people start complaining about unbundle fees and write to their representative in congress to push them to act although fighting against huge behemoth might feel overwhelming.
“I was upset but didn’t file complaint because I felt it was useless,” says Ayageh.